When the whole Disney “broaden out the Star Wars universe” thing was first mooted I was NOT enthusiastic about the prospect. Then, in Christmas 2016 “Rogue One” burst onto our screens as a breath of fresh air, and I thought “OK, I can be wrong!”. But even jolted by that pleasant surprise, I always thought that the second proposed diversion off the main hyperspace highway into “Radiator Springs” – a Han Solo back-story flick – might fall short. It just didn’t float my boat.
Add into that proposition the decision to give the film initially to “The Lego Movie” directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (why Disney? why?); them trying to forge it as a ‘comedy’; them falling horribly short and being fired by Disney; Disney bringing Ron Howard (“Inferno“, “Rush“) in to try to salvage the project; and Howard reportedly re-shooting 75% of the film and you have the makings of a turkey of galactic proportions.
With all that being said, I was surprised I enjoyed it as much as I did. But that’s off a very low base of expectation.
As you might guess, we go back to see Han… just Han… as a delinquent youth trying to keep his head above water under the thrall of the Fagin-like Lady Proxima (who – no pun intended – keeps her head under the water for most of the time). He is desperate to pull off a con that’s lucrative enough that it will get him and his girlfriend Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke, “Me Before You“; “Terminator: Genisys“; “Game of Thrones”) off-planet and into a free life. Things don’t go to plan though and Han – now Han Solo – finds himself a trooper of the Galactic Empire. He links up with fellow rogues Beckett (Woody Harrelson, “War for the Planet of the Apes“; “Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri“), Val (Thandie Newton, “Westworld”, “2012”), Rio (voiced by Jon Favreau, “Spider-Man: Homecoming“; “Iron Man Three“) and their assertive and rebellious droid L3-37 (voiced by Phoebe Waller-Bridge) in a get-rich-or-die mission for vicious gang-boss Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany, “Avengers: Infinity War“).
The film has its moments for sure:
- There are some nice background touches: an army recruitment video plays to the sound of John William’s empire march (played I am assured by my more musical wife in a major key to sound more uplifting and positive!);
- Han’s first meeting with that famous walking carpet (played by Joonas Suotamo) is memorable, as is the introduction to that “card player, gambler and scoundrel” Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover, “The Martian“, “Spider-Man: Homecoming“): all flamboyance, self-regard and well-dressed ego;
- the character of L3-37 is an excellent addition to the saga, forcefully demanding equality for droids: I would have liked to have seen much more of her;
- there is a nice twist on the Greedo/Han “who shot first” debate;
- production design and special effects are up to standard for a Star Wars film, and I enjoyed John Powell’s score, incorporating a new ‘young Han’ theme from John Williams himself;
- and Erin Kellyman (in here movie debut) is just breathtaking and strikingly brilliant as the be-freckled renegade Enfys Nest.
But overall it’s all a bit disjointed and jumbled, probably as befits its growing pains. We are introduced to Solo within five seconds of the film’s opening….. BAM! No exquisite ‘reveal’ as we saw with River Phoenix in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”. I found this disconcerting and it took me ten minutes to get into the film as a result.
When it gets going it rather tries too hard to join up more Star Wars dots than it needs to. “Rogue One” did that exceedingly well, but that was because it needed to as ‘Episode 3.5’. Here there are visual and verbal references everywhere as the screenwriters (Lawrence and Jonathan Kasdan) desperately try to knit their story into the canon. As an example, the action moves to the mines of Kessel at one point. Kessel? Kessel? Wasn’t that a throwaway C3PO line from the “A New Hope” about being “smashed to who knows what” in said mines?. So obviously, in the WHOLE GALAXY that’s where the story leads us, with the local lingo for the hyperspace fuel McGuffin at the heart of the plot being “spice”! It’s all a bit too trite for my liking.
And while a key protagonist appearing near the end of the film (no spoilers) is both a startling surprise and great fun, don’t get me started on the timeline implications…. (see the spoiler section below the trailer for more).
Alden Ehrenreich, who was just brilliant in “Hail Caesar” (“Was that it t’WERRRE so simple“) for me barely makes it past bland in the lead role. One of the defining characteristics of Harrison Ford’s Solo was his swagger and bravado and unfortunately Ehrenreich barely rates a three out of ten on the scale. I also found the chemistry with Emelia Clarke to be lukewarm. Clarke still seems to be struggling to make a significant breakthrough to the big screen…. “Me Before You” still seems to be her high water mark so far. Here she has a key and complex role, but comes over as just plain unconvincing and “meh”.
Ron Howard has clearly done a good job in buffing up a poisoned chalice so it can at least share space on the Star Wars shelf without being laughed out of the Cantina. Perhaps with a more coordinated and thought-through run-up to a Solo sequel (more Enfys Nest please!) this offshoot might have legs.
Fad Rating: FFFf.
Spoiler section: don’t read if you haven’t seen the film… you have been warned!
So, about that timeline. Ray Park makes a surprising return as Darth Maul of course, which in some ways is welcome…. for George Lucas to kill off such a memorable protagonist at the end of Episode 1 was CRIMINAL!! But if you think about the timeline, this is clearly “Episode 0”, the further we’ve ever gone back in the Star Wars saga. Solo here is, what?, twenty by the end of the film. So young Anakin is 9 years old in “A Phantom Menace” at the time Darth Maul dies, growing to 20 years old in “Revenge of the Sith”. He then has a baby, Luke Skywalker, who is planning to go to college (so let’s say 18 years old) by the time of “A New Hope”. If you do the maths, that would put Harrison Ford’s character’s age in “A New Hope” as a minimum at over 50!
This also doesn’t quite fit the (again far too trite) plot line at the end of the film of Solo going off to Tatooine to engage in a job with some “big shot gangster”. I’m sure Jabba can hold a grudge… but for 50+ years?
I am reliably informed by a Star Wars fan (thanks Jonny Shaw) that Darth Maul “comes back” from his waist-line level dissection and precipitous fall in “The Phantom Menace” to appear in the “Rebels” and “Clone Wars” animated TV series. (Perhaps he borrowed Iron Man’s convenient little blinky-light suturing kit from “Avengers: Infinity War“?? 🙂 ). This seems a bit of a ludicrous leap to me, but what do I know? Any other theories folks?